What’s that on the kitchen counter? It’s a pillow! It’s a tuffet! No, it’s a Wonderbag!
Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself. But this little cooking accessory truly is a wonder, and I’m excited to share it with you today.
The Wonderbag* is based on an age-old cooking method of heat-retention cooking. There have been (and continue to be) hundreds of variations of heat-retention cookers. I’ve read of straw bale cookers, plywood boxes, and cardboard solar cookers covered in foil. The basic idea? You bring your food (soup, stew, grains, beans, etc.) to a raging boil on your heat source, cover it, and place it in your heat retention cooker. The insulation of the cooker maintains the high temperature and continues to cook the food without the use of resources such as electricity, natural gas, or firewood.
The concept of the Wonderbag may be old, but the company itself is using a completely new marketing idea: Buy one, give one. Every time a Wonderbag is sold, another Wonderbag is given to a household in Africa. And while this might simply be a convenient gadget for use in your kitchen while you shuttle kiddos from dance lessons to soccer practice and get dinner cooked all at the same time, for a family is Africa the Wonderbag can be life-changing. Here are just a few of the benefits to consider (taken from Wonderbag’s website):
- Saves 30% of annual household income – saving money and easing poverty
- It reduces CO2 emissions
- Less deforestation because families need less firewood to cook
- It reduces toxic fumes which means less respiratory problems and other diseases, particularly in children
- It reduces time spent cooking, giving more time for child-care and other activities
- It saves precious water. When the pot is insulated in a Wonderbag at a fairly constant temperature, less evaporation occurs, so less water is needed
- It saves food. 20% of all staple food in Africa is burned, due to pots being placed on open fires and unregulated stove tops. With Wonderbag, no burning occurs
I expect that some will balk at the $50 price tag, and if it was truly the cost of one of these little cookers, I might agree with you. But if you consider that $50 to be a donation to a wonderful company making a difference in African homes, and consider the Wonderbag that is sent to you as a thank-you gift, I think it might help change your outlook.
The Wonderbag is made of insulating foam pieces enclosed in an attractive, wipeable fabric. I’ve read of some people machine washing theirs, but so far all of my spills have been easily wiped off. It’s quite large, so as to accommodate a wide variety of pot sizes, and it arrives vacuum packed like the photo above.
Once I had “re-fluffed” my Wonderbag, I was excited to give it a try. The basic idea is that your food goes into a pot, the pot is heated on the stove top, then transferred to the Wonderbag. The foam “lid” is placed over the pot and the drawstring is pulled tight to retain the heat in the bag and continue “cooking” the food.
Learning to make the best use of my Wonderbag was a trial and error process for me. It probably would have been made easier if I was the type to read instructions that come with products. But after a few tries, I had the process figured out and, to save you some trouble, here are some things I learned the hard way:
- Liquid doesn’t evaporate in the Wonderbag, so if you’re making something thick (chili or stew) use less liquid. Or you can plan to thicken it after cooking with a starch such as flour or arrowroot.
- This is not a slow cooker; it does not generate heat and will not “cook” things that are raw. Be sure that any meat in your recipes is already cooked all the way through before placing your pot into the Wonderbag.
- Your meal will cook most evenly and come out best if the ingredients are chopped into bite-size pieces.
- I had the best results with my enameled cast iron pots with tight-fitting lids when they were filled very full. Glass lids did not retain heat as well and the food cooled more quickly. Large pots that were only half full also cooled more quickly.
- Heat your food on the stove-top at a boil, until all the ingredients are evenly warmed throughout. I usually allow about 10-15 minutes, depending on the pot size.
- As a safety measure, I lined the bottom of my Wonderbag with a silicone hot pad. The Wonderbag is supposed to withstand temperatures of up to 350 degrees, but really, how am I to judge the temperature of the bottom of my pot?
This is a photo of one of my first Wonderbag recipes, a beef stew. It came out edible, but not as tasty as I was hoping. My mistakes: the chunks of beef were too large, I added too much liquid, the pot was not full enough, this pot uses a glass lid. I made it again a week later in my Le Creuset pot, correcting my mistakes, and it was divine.
Now that my Wonderbag and I have a good understanding of each other, we are making some wonderful meals! I love to use it when I have to be out of the house around dinner-time. I can put a stew together at 3:00, put it in the Wonderbag, and be away from the house while it finishes cooking. I know dinner won’t burn, and I don’t have to worry about leaving the stove on while I’m gone. I also use it at least once a week for cooking rice, grains, or dried beans. In the past, I’ve ruined my share of pots by letting them run dry while cooking beans or grains. The Wonderbag allows me to put in a hot pot and forget about it until dinner-time.
The only disadvantage, from the perspective of my large family living in a small house, is storage. The Wonderbag is quite large. But thankfully, it’s also rather attractive and comfortable. We keep it laying around and the kiddos use it as a pillow when it’s not working in the kitchen. It has also served as a shield during staged battle scenes, but I try to discourage that use whenever I happen to catch it.
I think the Wonderbag is going to make an excellent addition to our summer campouts, and if you do regular camping or RVing, I think you’ll be thrilled to have one. I’m also looking forward to using it to cook during the summer, without heating up the kitchen. And I keep thinking it’s the perfect thing to use for a pot of overnight, steel cut oats, but haven’t had an opportunity to experiment.
I read one review on Amazon that said it was the perfect thing to keep ice cream cold on summer picnics, and I wish I’d had it last summer for the Sweet Pea’s Paleo ice cream cake. Now that I own one, and I understand how to make the best use of it, I keep finding more and more uses for it! Truly, a kitchen workhorse that I didn’t know I needed until I had it.
Ready to try it out for yourself? Wonderbags are available at Amazon.com
* Review posts are my opinions on items that were sent to me free of charge. The items were given to me, but the thoughts and opinions are my own. I do not provide reviews of every item sent to me and only review items that I find to be truly worthy of recommendation.